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Cooking with Cast Iron

Cast iron cookware is a versatile, dependable tool for creating both culinary and confectionary classics in restaurants. When properly maintained, the best cast iron cookware will last a lifetime, with a natural non-stick coating that rivals man-made options. It can be used with any heat source, including induction, ceramic, electric, and gas cooktops, as well as ovens, grills, or even campfires.

Cast iron skillet

How is Cast Iron Cookware Made?

  1. Blocks of iron and steel are melted together in a factory, in the perfect proportions.
  2. Chemicals are added to the melted mixture to raise its carbon level. Cast iron normally contains 2 to 3 percent carbon to 97 to 98 percent iron. This is what differentiates it from carbon steel, which usually contains roughly 99 percent iron to 1 percent carbon.
  3. The molten metal is poured into a mold made of sand, water, and powdered clay.
  4. Once the cookware is cooled, the sand mold is broken and the cookware is released.
  5. Each piece of cookware is then smoothed by workers before being sold.
  6. If the cast iron is pre-seasoned, a coating of wax or vegetable oil is applied at this point to prevent the cookware from rusting while it sits on store shelves or in the warehouse.

Man putting lubricated cast iron skillet into oven

How To Season Cast Iron Cookware

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Apply a thin coat of vegetable shortening or lard to the interior and exterior of the cast iron pan. Coat all of the areas except the handle.
  3. Place a lined baking sheet on the bottom rack of your oven to catch any shortening or lard that drips down.
  4. Put your coated cast iron pan or skillet on the middle rack.
  5. Leave the pan in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour.
  6. Remove the pan, wipe it dry with a clean cloth, and let it cool completely.

Tip: Never put cold water in a hot or warm cast iron pan because it was cause the pan to warp or crack.

Cast iron should be properly seasoned prior to use. Seasoning cast iron cookware will allow you to cook with less oil, butter, or fat, and it gives your pans a non-stick surface while keeping them from rusting quickly. Plus, less fat means healthier cooking and lower expenses, benefiting both your customers and your bottom line. For more information on how to season cast iron, check out our Pan Seasoning Guide. This video also does a great job summarizing the best way to season cast iron cookware.

Cast Iron Troubleshooting

Even with the most meticulous maintenance, sometimes bad things happen to good cast iron. Here's how to handle these situations.

Rusty cast iron pan

Rust

What is rust? A red-orange coating forms on the surface of the pan.
Why did this happen? The pan was not properly cleaned, dried, or stored.
Is rust on cast iron dangerous? A little bit of rust on cookware isn't likely to harm you. Effectively cleaning and reseasoning the pan will restore it to a like-new condition, though.
How to remove rust from cast iron: If the entire pan is rusted, you'll need to re-season the whole piece. If only one or two spots is rusted, rinse the pan out with water, dry it thoroughly, heat it up, and rub it down with oil. The rusted spot should become well-seasoned again after a few uses.
How to prevent rust: Properly clean, dry, and store the pan each time you use it.

Pan seasoning scaling off of cast iron pan

Scaling

What is scaling? The seasoning on the pan sloughs off in large flakes.
Why did this happen? You tend to heat the pan too often without adding extra oil to it.
How to remove scale: Once scaling starts, there's no going back. To remedy this problem, you'll need to re-season the pan from the start.
How to prevent scaling: Regularly oil the pan after each use. Do not overheat the pan.

Food sticking to cast iron pan

Food Sticking

What is it? Food starts sticking to the surface of the pan.
Why did this happen? The seasoning on the pan has worn off.
How to remove stuck-on food: Re-season the pan for a smooth, non-stick surface.
How to make cast iron non-stick: Regularly season the pan to maintain the non-stick surface.

 

 

Cast Iron vs. Non-Stick Aluminum Cookware

Properly-seasoned cast iron cookware often serves as an ideal alternative to non-stick aluminum cookware. However, it does have its limitations, too.

Cast iron skillet on stovetop, filled with stir-fry

Cast Iron Pros

  • Incredibly Durable: No joints or rivets; nearly indestructible
  • Self-Created Non-Stick Surface: Safe if seasoning flakes off; allows you to cook with less oil than traditional cookware
  • Versatile: Can use metal utensils on surface; use on electric, gas, induction, or open flame heat sources
  • Maintains Temperature: Minimal temperature loss when food is added

Cast Iron Cons

  • Heavy: Cast iron is a relatively heavy product by nature
  • Shouldn't Cook Overly Acidic Foods in it: Will pick up flavor and color from the iron
  • Requires Careful Maintenance: Keeping up with proper seasoning is essential to maintaining cast iron cookware

Man cooking vegetables in aluminum frying pan over induction burner

Non-Stick Alumium Pros

  • Non-Stick Surface: Allows you to cook with less oil than traditional cookware
  • Light Weight: Non-stick aluminum is a relatively light weight product
  • Versatile: Can cook any type of food in it; use on electric or gas heat sources
  • Requires Minimal Maintenance: Cleaning and maintaining non-stick aluminum cookware is quick and easy

Non-Stick Aluminum Cons

  • Welded Joints or Rivets May Wear Out: Constructed with a two-piece design, non-stick aluminum is susceptible to worn out joints or rivets
  • Man-Made Non-Stick Surface: Potentially dangerous if flakes off
  • Limiting: Should not use metal utensils on surface; limited lifespan
  • Temperature Loss: Greater temperature loss when food is added

Three cast iron skillets nested over blue backdrop

Cleaning Cast Iron Cookware

Cleaning cast iron is easy with the right tools for the job.

  1. To start, scrub any dried on food with a firm brush, water, and kosher salt (if extra abrasion is needed).
  2. Once clean, dry it with a paper towel and place it on the range or in the oven at low heat to fully remove any traces of water.
  3. When your pan is completely dry, reheat it, then wipe it down with a paper towel soaked in your seasoning oil before storing.
  4. Store your seasoned cookware in a cool, dry place to prevent rust. If stacked, place a towel or paper towel between pans.

Restaurant Equipment

Cast Iron Cleaning Tips

  • Clean your cookware immediately after use.
  • Never leave cast iron soak in the sink.
  • Should a stubborn soil remain, use a bit of kosher salt in place of a tough abrasive.

What are Pre-Seasoned and Porcelain Enameled Cast Iron Cookware?

After cast iron cookware is made, it can be sold as-is, or it can be pre-seasoned or porcelain enameled for added benefits.

Cast iron casserole dish filled with macaroni and cheese with cutting board in background

Traditional Cast Iron Cookware

  • Most economical form of cast iron
  • Can easily be seasoned for a smooth, easy release
  • Must be seasoned right out of the box

Cast iron casserole dish filled with macaroni and cheese with sprig of rosemary in foreground

Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Cookware

  • Offers a natural, easy-release finish that improves with use
  • Pre-seasoned surface minimizes surface rusting
  • Requires re-seasoning over time

Blue cast iron dutch oven with roast chicken

Porcelain Enameled Cast Iron Cookware

  • Combines the durability and benefits of cast iron and the beautiful look of porcelain enamel
  • Ideal for display cooking applications
  • Porcelain enamel is susceptible to breakage

Types of Cast Iron Cookware

Cast iron cookware has hundreds of uses in commercial kitchens. From roasting meats to baking decadent desserts, each piece has its own purpose. Start on stovetop for a nice layer of caramelization from the high heat, then finish in the oven with radiant heat. No matter how you use it, cooking with cast iron is sure to give you an authentic finish.

Cast iron skillet filled with grilled chicken and roasted vegetables

Cast Iron Skillets

  • Incredibly versatile
  • One pan gives you a non-stick skillet, a pizza stone, a Dutch oven, a griddle, and even a cookie sheet
  • Easily goes from oven-to-table for fast, efficient service

Cast iron casserole dish filled with brownie, topped with ice cream and drizzled with chocolate

Mini Cast Iron Servingware

  • Used to bake pasta, casseroles, pot pie, baked macaroni and cheese, and vegetables
  • Miniature size makes it perfect for serving individual servings
  • Lodge's Heat-Enhanced Iron gives incredible durability, making those items dishwasher safe

Cast iron casserole dish filled with potato au gratin

Cast Iron Casserole Dishes

  • Used to bake pasta, casseroles, pot pie, baked macaroni and cheese, and vegetables
  • Two handles provide easy carrying and transport
  • Use with or without a lid

Cast iron griddle topped with toasted sandwiches

Cast Iron Griddles

  • Used for anything from sauteing onions and melting butter to searing steak, chicken, or fish
  • Great for serving entrees; material will keep contents warm throughout the entire meal
  • Available with smooth or grooved surface

Cast iron grill pan with grilled meat inside

Cast Iron Grill Pans

  • Perfect for grilling steaks, chicken, salmon, or tuna
  • Ridges allow grease to drain away from the food while creating tantalizing grill marks
  • Helper handles make it easy to lift larger pans

Man holding cast iron cover over cast iron skillet filled with roasted vegetables

Cast Iron Covers

  • Adds additional heat retention to your cast iron cookware
  • Also helps maintain moisture
  • Larger covers feature self-basting tips to continually baste food

Cast iron dutch oven filled with ham, cover in the background

Dutch Ovens

  • Tight fitting lid ensures excellent heat retention while locking in moisture.
  • Mini - Great for serving individual portions.
  • Mid-size - Use for serving family-style meals and sides, or at serving stations or buffets. 
  • Large - Perfect for roasting or baking, or for making soups, stews, and beans. Use for frying or making no-knead breads, too.

Man holding grilled tortilla over cast iron barbecue plate on range

Barbecue Plates

  • Perfect for making Korean barbecue, flat bread, grilled tortillas, or roasting vegetables
  • Intended for placement over stove or range burners
  • Designed with ridges to produce an appealing grilled texture

Cast iron skillet in oven, filled with macaroni and cheese

Can I Put Cast Iron In the Oven?

Cast iron can definitely go in the oven! We're not just talking Dutch ovens or other obvious bakeware pieces, either. Griddles, skillets, even pots can be used in the oven for added versatility! Pop them in the oven to:

  • Preheat the piece (make sure you rotate it to evenly distribute the heat)
  • Cook right in the oven
  • Keep a dish warm before it goes to the customer
  • Finish off a dish that was cooked in your cast iron elsewhere in the kitchen

Expert Tip

As an added bonus, if the oven's temperature fluctuates, the pan's heat will stay fairly constant thanks to the dense cast iron material.

Cast iron skillet with pancake and bacon

Why Does The Porosity of Cast Iron Matter?

Cast iron is a porous material, meaning it will slowly absorb oil and other food particles, creating the sought-after non-stick sheen. Because of this, you can use less oil when you cook with a well-seasoned cast iron pan, yet still get the non-stick convenience that you want when cooking foods like eggs and pancakes.

Expert tip icon

Don't cook acidic foods like tomatoes, vinegar, and wine in cast iron. They react with the metal and can give your dishes a metallic taste.

Cast iron skillet with grilled chicken and vegetables

Cast Iron Heat Retention and Heat Conduction Explained

Thanks to its density, cast iron is one of the best materials at retaining heat. It will keep hot foods, hotter, longer, and it will maintain its heat for quicker recovery between dishes. However, cast iron is not the best conductor of heat. It tends to heat unevenly, creating hot spots in the pan.

Expert tip icon

Make sure the burner is large enough for the cookware you're using. This will ensure a nice, even heat distribution, since heat conduction isn't on your side when using cast iron. Additionally, make sure you leave enough time for heating the pan properly, before cooking. 

Remember: Given proper treatment and time to heat up before use, cast iron holds temperatures extremely well.

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